How Louisiana high school teams are preparing for another COVID season

Koki Riley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association announced on Tuesday that it will not have any COVID-19 protocols in place for the  fall sports season.

In a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday, LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine expressed his trust in schools, coaches and athletes to do what they think is necessary to stay safe. He also announced that LHSAA is not taking a stance on vaccine use.

"At least through this pandemic and through what we've done, all of us have been good citizens and good neighbors and have done what we've been asked to do," Bonine said. 

Schools and coaches have instead resorted to implementing their own safety measures.

More:LHSAA announces that high school teams must forfeit games they can't play due to COVID-19

For many schools, the protocols they are putting in place are similar – if not the same – as last year's precautions. It's what Thibodaux football coach Chris Dugas is doing with his team.

"We have basically implemented the mitigation measures from last year such as masks, distancing when possible and players using personal water to hydrate," Dugas said. "Coaching wise, we have adjusted by working players at multiple positions and on both sides of the ball in case we run into a contact tracing issue."

Carencro football coach Tony Courville hasn't received any direct protocols from the school. As a result, his team is also practicing the same guidelines as last year.

"We're following the mask and social distance guidelines," Courville said. "We're trying to be a little bit more proactive because we're afraid something is going to pop up at us."

Along with the obvious health risks, the LHSAA's new stance on forfeitures was another warning to coaches of the potential dangers of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the organization declared that a team would be forced to forfeit a game if they could not play due to COVID-19.

"After the stuff the LHSAA sent out, I think there will be (some) more severe situations this year where coaches are going to have to forfeit a game," Menard football coach Justin Charles said. "I don't think it's going to affect anything early, but down the road, in my opinion, it's definitely going to affect how teams are ranked and how coaches feel about the playoff system."

"I don't want to have to be one of the teams, obviously, where you have to forfeit a game and stuff like that," added Courville. "I want my guys to be able to play all of our games."

Indoor mask use is a common practice for many teams in mitigating the potential spread of the virus. It's a protocol Benton football coach Reynolds Moore said his group abides by.

But unlike football, volleyball is always indoors. And for Teurlings Catholic coach Terry Hebert, it's an issue that requires his team to take extra precautions. 

More:The story behind Teurlings Catholic's eight consecutive volleyball state championships

Hebert runs practices where his team is never standing around or congregating in one small space at the same time. As a coaching staff they don't wear masks, but they do stay 10-12 feet away from the players and put on a mask anytime they speak to the players in a huddle.

Hebert said his team will have the same protocols as last year. Teurlings did not have any positive COVID-19 tests a season ago.

"What's helped tremendously is going through the whole experience last year," Hebert said. 

Since Thursday, large part because of the highly contagious Delta variant, 7,548 Louisianans had been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. A total of 2,907 people  were hospitalized in the state as of Friday.

Jeff Tannehill, Neville's football coach, has urged his team to make wise choices amid the emergence of the Delta variant.

"We’re a very senior-laden team and I’ve stressed to them how important it is to make good decisions," Tannehill said. "They don’t want to ruin their senior year by being reckless, not to mention this disease can be life-threatening to certain people."